April 2, 2015
craisy dukes made her debut in roller derby with Providence Roller Derby, one of the founding leagues of WFTDA. Over the years, dukes has proved her ability on the track with her fast moves in short denim cut-offs. Learn more about what motivates craisy dukes and her perspective on the sport as its changed over the years.
What is your derby name?
craisy dukes. Am not usually one for cute spellings, but help a fan out with the pop culture reference, you know? Lower case on purpose with a nod to the mighty bell hooks.
Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
This question is the derby equivalent of "When were you born?" :). I wanted my name to sound like Sarah Doom (the Johnny Appleseed of derby!) who started our league, then Boston, then Rochester. I was also wearing a lot of jean cut-offs at the time and was coming up short in the clever feminist reference department, so a friend's suggestion of craisy dukes won.
What is your number?
What is your home league?
Providence Roller Derby
Which team(s) do you play on?
The Rats (home team) and the Riveters (travel).
What is your skate gear of choice?
The owners of Five Stride and Bruised Boutique have been generous and attentive equipping me over the years. That being said, you are not talking to a gear head! As Boston's Anna Wrecks'Ya said to me at practice once, "You just kind of make whatever you have work don't you?" Yup.
Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
No sacrifices to the jammer line gods, but there's usually some visualization on the drive down to the venue. At the very least, I remind myself before I leave the apartment that I'm switching gears into the hyper physical realm: "game. gonna play a game now." I throw a mental blanket over the loose ends - make sure the announcer packet has all the sponsors, remember the cookies you made for the bake sale, pay your dues balance, etc etc. I mostly do this so I don't get hurt. I want all the molecules pricked and primed and working together on the highest alert.
What do you think about when you're lacing up your skates?
"Oo. These are looking a bit salty...I hope they don't snap during the game. I think I have extras?"
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
"You can do anything for two minutes." - retired Providence legend, Hysterica!
Do you have a theme song?
"Heads Will Roll" (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) takes me instantly to a place in my derby life when love, devotion, and possibility felt the most raw and true.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I grew up an activity generalist - decent at lots of things (most sports included), awesome at none. My "skating background" before derby was 8-year-old birthday parties at Star Wheels.
How did you get involved with roller derby?
You know how in Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams pushes back on Matt Damon about his choice to be a janitor at one of the post prestigious technical institutions in the world (MIT), suggesting maybe he was looking for something else working there, consciously or not? Everyone that finds derby is looking for something, even if they don't know it. I was back on the East Coast, having been suspended from Stanford University a second time, working part time as a sports instructor/camp counselor at the YMCA and living w/ the parents. Attractive! I was elated then to see that the Brown University Bookstore was hiring clerks for student rush - a chance to emancipate myself from the suburbs and be surrounded by an informed, enterprising, thoughtful, creative and artful populous! Hallelujah.
It was there, combing the smart kids' alternative quarterlies on my breaks, that I learned of this emerging part-athletic, part-punk, all-autonomous subculture of "roller derby." Only in Texas and on the West Coast, I thought, though. UNTIL I crossed paths with a cheap, xeroxed five-inch flyer stapled to a telephone poll on my walk back from work one night: "Providence Roller Derby presents: Blocktoberfest...last bout of the season!" Holy bad word!! I caught the second half of the last bout of Providence's first season, outside under the lights on the concrete in the heart of the city. I felt like the bee girl in the Blind Melon video when she opens the gates and freaks out with joy to discover the other bees partying. I had to stalk the announcer in the aisles of the bookstore to get connected, since the league website email didn't work and the email that someone handed me written in purple marker on a napkin at a recruiting event (at a pizza place in a snow storm) bounced back. I still can't believe they let me in. Zero street cred. So lucky.
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
There was so, so much falling, my god. Addressing the very real issue of rink rash outside on the concrete, Godmother, a RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] kid and part of the league's founding class, told me once, "We're not just wearing these knee highs for fashion." Wise woman. I will in no way blame the equipment, it was all me, but like almost every new person (at least back then) my skates were too big for me. There was no way I could afford something beyond $100, now paying rent in the city and working two part-time minimum wage jobs. Dolly Rocket, another RISD kid, six or so years my junior, and very much my mentor, offered to buy me a new pair of skates in exchange for 20 personal training sessions. I had those skates for 5 years. The girls were preparing for the first-ever derby tournament, the Dust Devil, so new people were sent to wobble around in the shallow end during their practices, visited intermittently by a "vet" skater (they'd all only been skating one season) who'd be like, "Well...let's try this?", show us a stop or a cross over, and then skate away again to join practice. That was totally fine with us, we were just pumped to be there, but it meant you really got to develop your own style of skating, effective or not, because very little was standardized. Dolly, Ivanna Clobber, Godmother, Sweet Destruction, Ratt Scallion, DaSilva Bullet, Hysterica, Sarah Doom - I learned to skate by trying to imitate them.
What is your position of choice?
I tend to wear the hats.
What is your signature move?
Fist-bumps on the jammer line. Let's play a game!
How would you describe your derby playing style?
Beloved retired Providence coach OCDeliah liked to say, "The way you do one thing is the way you do everything." I don't want to be the President, I want to get the president elected because I believe in her. But sometimes, when there is a need, I'll also be the President and boss it out with snaps...know what I'm sayin'? Blocking, jamming...I just want to be relevant in game play, but my most natural instincts are to help you get the points, protect you so you can go on with your bad self, realize your potential. Though the other side of the coin presents perennial challenges, we're lucky in Providence that our size means we really know and care about each other. I am not a technical skater, I have power, endurance and reliability (yawn). But I will kill for you and I hope demonstrating that on and off the track will make you want to kill for me too.
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
Harley Quinn,at the time a WFTDA rep and active Boston Derby Dames organizer, G-chatted me at work and said, "Suzy Hotrod asked if you wanted to join a team to play against Team Awesome at ECE. What do you think?" Eh, Willis? Suzy Hotrod does not know who I am. Shut it down Susan. Someone was organizing a challenge bout at "ECDX" (I will never give in) full of my heroes, they had a spot or two left, and over Yahoo Groups, Suzy Hotrod asked, "what about someone from Providence, what about craisy dukes?" completely unsolicited. I was obviously floored. Being a rocket on the first iteration of the Flying Sparkly Object Posse, foe of Team Awesome and bastions of the winged cat, made me feel validated in front of basically everyone I knew and introduced me to people I'd always wanted to meet. Thank you Suzy.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
Good lord, this is quite the reflective process. I think my greatest accomplishment may be that I'm still on the track? I have not stopped once since I found out where practice was held (10pm to midnight when I first started) as a rookie. No LOAs, no personal time, not even for a few weeks. Just ten seasons of working hard straight through. I'm not even sure Rhoda Perdition, the only Providence skater of the original founding class still skating for our league, can say that? "Stay on the track" was in fact the mantra for the Rats (my home team and derby heartbeat) last season - as in, stay on the track, don't go to the box, and stay on the track - focus, stay with me, bring your mind with you to your play, always.
Off the track?
My relationships and regard in the derby and Providence community are by far my greatest off-the-track accomplishment. Second, even though Providence's rankings are not necessarily reflective of this, I know I'm heavily responsible for shoring up PRD's business infrastructure. There are few policies/bylaws/job descriptions/structural organizing I haven't written directly from nothing. Pretty sure no one in the non-derby world cares, but those are some seriously thoughtful (and useful!) products, please god let them count for something.
Who are your derby heroes?
It is unfair that the skaters who exhibit both skating prowess AND administrative fortitude get glory more than those who are integral to pushing the organizational piece forward, but who may only be middle-of-the-road skaters. My heroes are the original league founders, organizers and visionaries--the OGs. And the skaters showing responsibility to an effort bigger than themselves, especially when that commitment is challenged by injury. Everyone knows the skaters hammering away at their laptop rostering and weighing in on decisions with their broken ankle propped up on the couch because they were elected captain goddammit, they said they would do the job and they are going to do it. Last, I have been inspired by many, especially my first leaguemates listed in an earlier question above, but I have to mention by name Bonnie Thunders. Everyone loves the underdog, but come on you guys, respect for the relentless drive to legitimize. The contributions are staggering! I don't care how many points Gotham has, I'm cheering for the other team AND her when she clears the pack.
What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I have 2 paying jobs: nannying for a 4-year-old (who's real name is Ruby Dukes! What are the odds?), and basically being a house manager/personal assistant for this dynamo family also with two working parents but with three school-aged kids each doing 14 sports a season. Before that I was an athletic director at the YMCA. In all sets of jobs I wear lots of these metaphoric hats we're all familiar with. Anticipating needs, managing time, prioritizing resources, encouraging good behavior, preparing for constant change, providing an environment encouraging inclusivity and thoughtful choice. Obviously analogous to derby!
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
What I don't have regularly in my day time job, I have concentrated in derby - interaction with adults (!), an opportunity to vision out/think big picture on behalf of a collective, use my very expensive, educated, and under-certified brain to write, to perform publicly, to compete, and to inspire others to be their best selves. Basically, contribute meaningfully to the community and earn friends and skills along the way. Fulfillment! The problem is that that fulfillment and its accompanying accomplishments has proven in my experience to hold little professional credence outside of WFTDA. An unquantifiably valuable but ultimately unsustainable investment. I have the accolades and admiration of most of my league and even people outside the league. But I still haven't graduated Stanford, I am still very hand-to-mouth, and my girlfriend is peacing out with some other people who are more available. "Career" change and retirement are nigh!
How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
Generous that this question presupposes I've found such a balance. I don't like to make that distinction - "real" life/derby life. Derby is my work, I just don't get paid for it. Let us agree to subvert the often default belief system equating income earned with value of social contribution.
It has been over five years since you and Providence Roller Derby were featured in the documentary Not Your Mama's Roller Derby. Looking back, what are some of the biggest changes for you as a skater since that time?
Oh boy, you guys have done some research! Got new skates, learned to do the toe stop dance a lot more, started and then stopped kneeling at the jammer line, returned to my roots of mostly pivoting. I bitterly accepted that Providence caved to the pressure of wearing standard sports uniforms instead of uniforms that at least reference DIY roots. I tried out for Team USA, skated a full league and travel team practice with Gotham, commuted hellishly to skate a year with the supremely supportive ladies of Boston. When I came back from Boston to Providence, I was told I needed a white helmet now and sorry, no jean cut-offs, only black bottoms. I understand fully the power of a visually unified derby army. But those last two concessions, though I ultimately found a compromise within each, cut down the last few reminders I have of the sine qua non I joined derby for. We are supposed to be the anti-machine, you know? There is a way to demonstrate legitimacy to an audience not already subscribing to the cornerstone principles of amateur athletics, collective ownership, and democratized decision-making, I just know it. That is our challenge.
As an integral member of Providence Roller Derby, one of the founding members of WFTDA, what are some of the things that you hope to keep with the spirit of those early days? How have you worked with surrounding leagues to continue to foster that spirit?
I have vowed to change my legal name to "dukes" if there is ever an official ban of derby names. Remember, legitimacy on our own terms.
What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby?
Show reverence for those who came before you. Make an effort to understand the sport and your league's history. Assume your suggestions may have already been thought of, and present them as such. Understand your life priorities before joining. Treat yourself as an athlete would.
As you celebrate a decade of roller derby, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the sport? Where do you see roller derby and WFTDA going in the next ten years?
We are getting our act more and more together. I'm excited to go to WFTDA-Con for the first time ever this year to understand just where we stand on goals and values. What are we trying to accomplish here? How can the rules promote safety and audience engagement? Where have our fans gone? How can we evolve? How are we relevant? How can we partner with other groups with similar goals outside the derby community? Are we sustainable? I know all of these questions have been thoughtfully considered by many smart, dedicated ladies. I need to know if this thing I've dedicated the last 10 years of my life to, in fact, has inherent progressive value and meaning, or if I'm just trying to ascribe those qualities to it so that I can justify the time spent.
Do you have any advice for staying with the sport long-term, as you have?
Human capital is the single most valuable resource we have. Prioritize valuing your relationships with one another above ALL else. Cross train so you get hurt less.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
Thank you! I will not marry you, but thank you for the offer!
Do you have any upcoming bouts that you’re really excited for and why?
I can't wait to play with the Rats again. Bring on home season!
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
Secret nominator - thank you. Leaguemates who contribute just as much as me but don't get the credit just because I've been around longer - thank you.
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.